Facebook recently closed a privacy loophole that allowed third parties to discover the names of people in private, "closed" Facebook groups. A Chrome extension that was made specifically for marketers to harvest this information en masse was also shut down prior to Facebook's move, after the social media network issued a cease-and-desist letter to the application's makers earlier this year, according to a spokesperson.
Facebook's decision came after members of a private group for women with a gene mutation associated with a higher risk breast cancer complained, concerned that their names might be exposed and open them to discrimination from insurers or other privacy violations. A spokesperson for Facebook said shutting down the ability to view members of closed groups was a recent decision based on "several factors," but was not related to this group's outreach.
The privacy issue comes at a time when Facebook is trying to re-position itself as a gathering place for friends, family and those with common problems and interests, in an effort to shake off negative connections to malicious online trolls, political rancor and alleged widespread violations of privacy. Facebook has also prioritized “groups” as a business strategy, with Mark Zuckerberg telling CNN last year: “If what you’re trying to do is run a group that has thousands of people, you need tools to help manage that.”
The company is also dealing with fierce regulatory scrutiny, particularly in the European Union, where new General Data Protection Regulation has expanded the definition of "personal data" far beyond social security numbers, to include the kind of data, like locations, names and genetic markers, that had been available publicly on members of Facebook's closed groups.